Monday, November 19, 2012

What does an Editor Mean by 'the Same but Different?'

If you’ve ever been to a writing conference and talked to an editor from any of the publishing houses, you’ve probably heard them say that they want ‘the same yet different.’

At first, this whole idea of ‘same but different’ sounded like an oxymoron. How in the world would I ever going to get published it I didn’t have a clear understanding of what it was editors wanted. So being the researcher I am, I began my own investigation.

The same
Easy enough. Just needed to look at my bookcase. The time period varied--Civil War, American West, World War II, Regency England. Plot, not so much--boy meets girl, boy and girl face conflict, boy and girl live happily ever after. These become the same factor--the ‘comfort zone’ that readers (and writers) have some entanglable connection to or knowledge of. It has a feel of familiarity to it.

To confirm my hypothesis, I didn’t have to look any further than one of favorite TV shows, The Big Bang Theory. If you haven't ever seen this show, it's about four uber intelligent guys trying to find their place in a world that doesn’t quite understand them. Besides being hilarious, it hits on one of the most basic human needs, to feel wanted and be accepted, something 99.9 percent of us on planet Earth have felt at one time or another. Definitely a common thread through humanity. 

But Different?
This is the component that makes you’re story POP off the page, the little twist in the usual. So what kind of twist are we talking about? 

Let’s go back to Big Bang. We’ve got our four uber smart guys trying to find their way in the world. So what did the series creator do? He threw a beautiful(and not too terribly smart) woman in the mix as their next-door neighbor which is great but not terribly original. Until she acts completely OPPOSITE of what we expect--she befriends these guys, even falls for one of them which is so not what we the viewers expected. Even better, we realize that even those people we least expect have insecurities about themselves. 

How does that translate to your writing?
When I first started writing historical romance, I wasn’t sure how I was going to infuse the whole ‘same but different’ idea into my work. 

Then my daughters ‘helped’ me. Well, what they wanted were books on World War II--they had a thing for the movie 'Pearl Harbor.' And being a mother of two girls, I wanted them to know about women who made a contribution to the war effort. There was only a couple of books on this subject and they were about nurses or reporters, but as I browsed through one, I came across a blurb about the women pilots who ferried planes, taught men how to fly in combat and served as target practice. The whole idea of ‘same but different’ snapped into place.

Same(everyone’s heard of World War II) but different(no one I talked to had ever heard of women pilots!)

And Hearts in Flight was born!

How do you know if your story has the 'same, but different' factor? Go through your story. Make notes of how you can give a different twist on an old tale, then flesh out those ideas into new scenes to give your story that POP it needs to catch the attention of that editor you're looking to impress. 


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